Eshoo Reignites Russian Propaganda Probe Call For ‘Sputnik’

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The non-voting Delegate for Washington, D.C., in the House of Representatives and a California House Member have taken lead roles in a group of Congressional leaders seeking a FCC investigation into whether a local radio station aired propaganda sponsored by the government of Russia.


Golden State Democrat Anna G. Eshoo and fellow Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton are pointing fingers at WZHF-AM 1390 in Arlington, Va., acquired in May 2000 by licensee Way Broadcasting.

That’s an entity led by Arthur Liu, the head of Multicultural Broadcasting. Way acquired WZHF and a Manassas, Va., AM station from Mega Communications in exchange of $24.5 million and WKDM-AM in New York.

In March 2011, WZHF — once the home of Top 40 WEAM — began airing The Voice of Russia. Programming was produced in the U.S. and lasted until summer 2015, when programming was replaced with a regional Mexican format.

On Nov. 25, 2017, English-language programming with a Russian perspective returned. As “Sputnik Radio,” WZHF is once again airing shows and views funded by the Kremlin. The arrival of “Sputnik Radio” came after the June 30, 2017, placement of its programming on FM translator W288BS at 105.5 MHz, originally using a feed off of a multicast channel tied to WKYS-FM 93.9 in Washington, owned by Urban One.

W288BS is owned by prominent D.C. communications attorney John Garziglia, through his licensee Reston Translator LLC.

The 2017 debut of Sputnik radio caught Eshoo’s attention, and at the time was joined by Mike Doyle (Pa.) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) in urging FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to investigate the matter and enforce the public interest standard for licensed stations that broadcast the network.

This led to a sequence of events forcing WZHF’s programmer, Florida-based RM Broadcasting LLC to register as a foreign agent. In DOJ filings, RM confirmed that it was paid $1.43 million between November 24, 2017 and June 2019 by Rossíya Segódnya, the government news agency created in 2013 by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Foreign Entities Reform Act, which requires U.S. media outlets to disclose state-sponsored programming, is largely thanks to Eshoo.

RM is led by Arnold Ferolito, and leases WZHF via an agreement with Liu.

With the 2020 presidential election campaign heating up, Eshoo’s efforts against Sputnik have become reenergized, entering a new chapter.

“The American people deserve to know when radio programming they hear on public airwaves is foreign government-funded propaganda,” she said on Tuesday. Yet today, a listener of WZHF … would have no idea that the station’s programming is funded by the Russian Federation. We ask that the FCC investigate whether WZHF’s sponsorship identification sufficiently identifies the true identity of the sponsor of its broadcast programming.”

FCC regulations state that a radio station must announce the identity of any sponsor to the public. In the view of Eshoo and Norton, “the Russian Federation pays to air the propaganda through a third party.” And, “despite the clear connection between WZHF and the Russian Federation, the station does not convey to audiences that the Russian government sponsors its programming. As a result, listeners of WZHF are unlikely to know they are listening to Russian government-funded propaganda.”

Signing on to the letter to Chairman Pai are House Reps. Jerry McNerney, Yvette Clarke and Norma Torres.


FROM THE RBR+TVBR ARCHIVES:

House Democrats Seek To Crash ‘Sputnik’

With the end of an agreement with American University to use W288BS at 105.5 MHz in Chevy Chase, Md., for its “Bluegrass Country” programming, licensee Reston Translator LLC — owned by D.C. communications attorney John Garziglia — needed new programming. Callers came, and eventually Sputnik — a News/Talk format funded by the Russian government — was launched. That’s made three House Democrats hot.